Getting rid of bed bugs in subsidized housing

Subsidized housing invariably attracts tenants with mental health and addictions issues that makes cooperating with exterminator protocols problematic. And without cooperation the exterminator is given an impossible task of getting rid of the bugs. How is the exterminator to address bed bugs when the tenant refuses to launder infested clothing or declutter a hell hole? As such whenever I hear public housing tenants complaining about bed bugs on the radio I have a lot of sympathy for the person running insect control department. He/she has a thankless task.

A church group near my home has been operating a low income inner city apartment block with a total of 50 suites for a number of years. This building has been battling bed bugs constantly since 2007 (6 plus years). The church put out a survey to ascertain what the tenants wanted most and the number one concern (as evidenced by the number of complaints) was bed bugs. And that concern came despite spending $100,000 a year on insect control.

I was asked to evaluate the property and the first inspection revealed that almost half the suites had active bed bugs. I even passed the exterminator in the hallway who was wondering what I was doing.

I recognized that replacing existing exterminators with myself would not solve the problem. I sat down with the Church leadership and devised a plan. The Church would hire a part time bug person who would assist me as I went about my exterminator duties. The employee would be given tasks such as following up on tenants who failed to do laundry and providing assistance if necessary, documenting non compliance and writing warning/eviction letters if necessary, building glue board bed leg traps and installing/monitoring/maintaining them in the infested suites, and monitoring the entire building for bed bugs. The only work I did was provide hands on training/advice to the employee, and the actual chemical treatments.

It took 4 months but we got rid of all the bed bugs. Personally, considering all the non compliance I noted, I did not think we would ever be successful but the combination of chemical treatments, glue board bed leg traps, considerable efforts of the employee in ameliorating the most egregious examples of non compliance, and Church board meetings with the non compliant tenants, we got rid of the bugs.

6 months after the last bed bug treatment the employee reestablished the monitoring program to see how many suites had bugs. We still do not have the bed leg trap results but, if we had failed to get rid of the bed bugs in any suite previously, 6 months of untreated bed bugs would have been painfully obvious. And yet there was no obvious signs of bed bugs and no bug related complaints. Wow!!!

The success we obtained in this setting was not because I am a magic worker. The success came through a cooperative effort where the landlord, exterminator and tenant (sometimes with assistance or cajoling from the employee), made the program work.

The nicest part of this job is the tenants approaching me in the community and thanking me profusely for getting rid of the bugs. However, I must defer the credit to all members of the program.


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